Third Front forces BJP, Congress to rework election strategy

By Arun Anand, IANS,

New Delhi : The launch of the multi-party Third Front has forced both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to start redrawing their strategies for the Lok Sabha elections, party sources said Friday.

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Although both the Congress and the BJP have publicly dismissed Thursday’s rally at Tumkur near Bangalore as one of no consequence, leaders of these parties admit that the centre-Left alliance may prove to be a major factor in the April-May ballot.

“The Third Front cannot be ignored any more as both the Congress and the BJP are expected to fall far short of the majority mark in the (545-member) Lok Sabha,” a senior Congress leader told IANS.

Added a veteran BJP leader closely associated with chalking out the party’s election strategy: “We had not taken the so-called Third Front seriously. But it seems it is fast emerging as a dark horse and could upset the existing political equations.”

Similar views were echoed by other Congress leaders.

A former Congress chief minister told IANS on the condition of anonymity: “We had been sending feedback to the party high command that the smaller outfits should be taken seriously and we should try to rope them in. Now they pose a serious threat to Congress and its allies as they are coming together.”

On Thursday, Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) chief and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda addressed a mammoth rally at Tumkur along with leaders of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) among others.

It was one of the biggest gatherings of centre-Left forces since the United Front government fell apart in 1998. The Third Front parties could play a decisive role in at least 200 Lok Sabha seats, Congress and BJP sources say.

This has caused worry in the Congress and BJP camps. The two parties had hoped to tie up with some of the Third Front partners to cobble a majority in the event of a widely expected hung verdict.

Congress and BJP leaders said they never expected the Third Front to take shape so soon.

“We underestimated the political acumen of Deve Gowda and (CPI-M general secretary) Prakash Karat,” a Congress functionary admitted, referring to the chief architects of the new alliance.

Another BJP leader added: “Our leaders were in touch with many of the regional outfits for a possible pre-poll as well as post-poll alliance. We had not expected them to come together so fast, so soon.”

Naturally, strategists in the BJP and Congress have been forced to go back to the drawing board to rework their strategies to counter the Third Front threat.

“The attendance at Tumkur was very impressive. We will have to rework our strategy in around half a dozen states where member parties of the so-called Third Front are active and have influence,” a member of the BJP’s think tank said.

Congress sources admit that with the inclusion of the BSP, which rules Uttar Pradesh, the Third Front could be in a position to upstage both the Congress and the BJP.

Many eyes are on a dinner BSP chief and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, who has made it clear that she wants to head the Third Front, is hosting at her residence in New Delhi on Sunday. The dinner is likely to be attended by representatives and leaders of all Third Front parties.